September 22, 2021

Bipartisan, Bicameral RECA Expansion Bill Introduced

Extends benefits under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) for those exposed to fallout

Washington, D.C.--U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) introduced bipartisan legislation, S. 2798, designed to extend and expand eligibility under the RECA program to those who have suffered from cancers related to fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War period of the 1950s and 1960s.  The legislation expands the coverage area to allow more potential victims, known as “downwinders,” to file for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.  The program currently limits compensation to individuals who lived in parts of Nevada, Utah and Arizona at the time of the tests, despite scientific studies indicating the radioactive fallout and radiation reached a number of states in the Mountain West.  Representative Teresa Leger Fernández (D-New Mexico) introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The Senate legislation would update the current RECA program by expanding the geographic downwinder eligibility to include then-residents of Colorado, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico.  The Senate bill would expand eligibility for certain individuals working in uranium mines, mills or transporting uranium ore.  It would also increase the amount of compensation an individual may receive and extend the RECA program another 19 years following enactment.  RECA is currently scheduled to sunset in 2022. 

“For more than a decade, I have introduced legislation to compensate downwinders, and, sadly, we are losing many to old age and cancer,” said Senator Crapo.  “Congress must pass this critical bill while there is still time to assist those still with us.” 

“Former uranium miners who are sick and dying and downwind communities whose air and water was poisoned deserve to be treated fairly by their government.  While there can never be a price placed on one’s health or the life of a loved one, Congress has an opportunity to do right by all of those who sacrificed in service of our national security by strengthening RECA,” said Senator Luján.  “For over a decade, I’ve been fighting alongside impacted communities to extend and expand RECA.  This is about justice and doing what’s right, and there’s no time to waste.” 

“New Mexicans have endured the harmful effects of nuclear testing and uranium mining for decades,” said Representative Leger Fernández.  “These aren’t abstract issues for New Mexicans.  Our communities, especially communities of color, suffered when we tested nuclear bombs and mined uranium for those bombs on our lands.  Our government must right this wrong, we must compensate those who are battling cancer, leukemia and other diseases caused by radiation exposure. This bill does just that.  We cannot continue to ignore these injustices. This bill will ensure that those harmed continue to receive compensation and expand the current law to cover communities that have been left behind to deal with the repercussions on their own. It’s time that they receive fair compensation.”  

Co-sponsors of the Senate legislation include:  Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico). 

Co-sponsors of the House legislation include: Representatives Burgess Owens (R-Utah), Jim McGovern, (D-Massachusetts), Juan Vargas (D-California), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia), Steven Horsford (D-Nevada), Tom O’Halleran (D-Arizona), Dina Titus (D-Nevada), Greg Stanton (D-Arizona), Barbara Lee (D-California), Susan Wild (D-Pennsylvania), Suzan DelBene (D-Washington), Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), Yvette Herrell (R-New Mexico), Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam) and Derek Kilmer (D-Washington). 

Crapo chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the RECA program in June 2018.  Tona Henderson, of Emmett, Idaho, and head of the Idaho Downwinders organization, provided testimony in the hearing and paid tribute to those in her community who have passed away due to radiation-related illnesses.  Her birthplace of Gem County, Idaho, received the third-highest amount of fallout in the nation according to a 1997 National Cancer Institute study. 

“We need to compensate all the states that were harmed during testing, which is exactly what Sen. Crapo and Sen. Lujan’s bill will do,” said Tona Henderson, Executive Director of the Idaho Downwinders organization.  “Compensating only a few counties or individual states does nothing to help all the Downwinders throughout the West who have suffered for 70 plus years — many of whom have already lost their lives and many that are still struggling.   We applaud Senator Crapo, Senator Risch and Senator Lujan.” 

“I’ve been working with Downwinders and Uranium workers from throughout New Mexico for over 16 years now to see us added to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.  We are the American Citizens that were harmed during the development and testing of nuclear devices.  We can no longer be ignored.  For anyone to remain complacent knowing this history renders them complicit in the horrible injustice of it all.  It’s time the people of New Mexico and other places like Guam and Idaho receive the restorative justice they’ve been waiting on for decades.  No matter what the cost,” said Tina Cordova, Co-Founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.  “We thank Senator Luján for his tireless work and dedication to our issue. He is our hero. We will never forget all that he has done.” 

In addition to expanding the coverage area, Crapo and Luján’s RECA legislation would provide coverage under additional forms of cancer, increase the compensation from $50,000 to $150,000 for those affected and improve benefits for uranium workers and Tribal residents exposed to fallout.  Updates made to this version of the bill include an expanded list of radiation-related cancers deemed eligible for compensation, added cost-savings for those attempting to file a claim and improved date ranges for downwinder eligibility. 

Full text of the bill can be found HERE

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